A bill to outlaw synthetic marijuana in Pennsylvania is creating a buzz in Harrisburg.

A motion to ban what's commonly sold as "herbal incense" passed its first hurdle today when the state Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to send Bill 176 to the House.

The legislation names six cannabinoids, all similar to the active ingredient in marijuana, that are easily created in laboratories. The cannabinoids are often mixed with common herbs and smoked to produce a high very similar to marijuana.

The so-called designer drugs are sold in head shops, variety stores and gas stations, said the bill's cosponsor State Rep. Bryan R. Lentz, (D-Delaware) Common brand names of the synth-pot are K2, Spice, and Gold.

Lentz, who is running for Joe Sestak's congressional seat, said manufacturers skirt legal issues by labeling it as "not for human consumption."

One of Lentz's legislative aides ordered a package of K2 several weeks ago over the Internet. When the package arrived at Lentz's Swarthmore office, it contained a small ziplock baggie holding about three grams of a dried green substance. The warning that advised against human consumption was nearly unreadable, tiny white letters on a pale yellow background.

Opened at the Inquirer, the contents smelled like sweetened peppermint or chamomile pot pourri. When a small sample was ignited, it gave off the acrid scent of burning leaves spiked with cinnamon.

John W. Huffman, the Clemson University chemist who created the substance in 1995, has called users of the synthetic cannabinoids "idiots."

"Nobody knows anything about how these new compounds act in the human body," Huffman told WebMD early this year. "Anecdotal reports say they stick around in the body for quite a long time."

Though the cannabinoids remain legal under federal law, nine states have banned them. Legislation similar to Pennsylvania's is pending in Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York and Utah.

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796 or samwood@phillynews.com.